Of the condition and habits of the early inhabitants of the district now occupied by Glasgow there are a few materials from which to obtain authentic information. At the time of Kentigern, it may well be believed, they were in a very rude state. Even within the Roman wall, as I have said, neither the language nor the civilization of the Romans appears to have made any great impression on the ancient population; and when the forces of the Empire were finally withdrawn, the people returned in a great measure to their primitive barbarism.1
The Roman historians describe the barbarians or hostile tribes in Scotland with whom they came in contact as two nations, bearing the names of Caledonii and Mæatæ. The latter occupied the territory next to the Roman wall. They had neither walls nor cities. The historian Dio, as abridged by Xiphiline, describes them as living on the milk of their flocks and wild fruits, and on what they could get by hunting. They had, he says, no houses properly so called, but tents or huts, where they lived almost entirely naked, and they painted or punctured their bodies, so as, by a process of tatooing, to produce the representations of animals. As regards their houses, however, this was no doubt their condition only at the period of the year, namely summer, when the Romans saw them. That they had houses better fitted to protect them in winter is certain. Remains of these have been found in various parts of Scotland, and they are almost invariably found in groups. The rudest of them consisted simply of shallow excavations in the soil, of a circular or oblong form; they rarely exceeded 7 or 8 feet in diameter, and they were generally surrounded by a raised rim of earth, in which a slight break indicated the door. On digging within the area charred wood or ashes, mixed with fragments of decayed bones or vegetable earth, are generally found.2 An interesting group of these huts or “weems” was discovered not many years ago near Busby, in the vicinity of Glasgow. They were of the most primitive kind, being mere semicircular pits cut out of the hill side, with a passage to the door, also dug out of the slope on a level with the floor. Each consisted of one small apartment, about 12 feet square and 5 feet high, and faced with stone. The floors were neatly paved with thin flag-stones. In the centre was a hole for a fireplace, in which ashes were still visible. Near the fireplace were small piles of water-worn stones, 2 or 3 inches in diameter, probably for cooking food by placing heated stones round it, as is still done by some of the islanders in the Pacific. Several; hand querns of stone for grinding grain were also found in these houses. At a short distance a grave was discovered, lined with stone, and containing rude urns filled with ashes, indicating that the inhabitants had disposed of their dead by cremation. Unfortunately, the whole of these curious pit houses were destroyed.3
In the country lying north of the Forth, the ancient Pictland, the remains of underground weems or “eirde houses” are very abundant, while on the south of that river they are rare, and in Galloway they seem to be unknown.4 In these weems, querns, deers’ horns, and bones have been found. They agree very much with the description by Tacitus of the winter dwellings of the Germans. Another group of these weems was found within a few miles of Aberdeen, which Professor Stuart suggested might mark the site of the capital of Taixali when the Roman eagles passed the river Dee in the second century.5 They show a slight advance in constructive skill in the strengthening of the inclosure with stone.
Remains have also been found of another class of ancient Scottish dwellings. In some parts of Argyleshire there have been found rough oval pavements of stone, bearing marks of fire, and in many instances covered with charred ashes. They are usually found to measure 6 feet in greatest diameter, and they are sometimes surrounded with the remains of pointed hazel sticks or posts, the relics, doubtless, of the upright supports with which the walls and tapering roofs, probably of straw, were framed.6 Julius Cæsar describes the dwellings of the Britons as similar to those of the Gauls, and these, we know, were constructed of wood, in a circular form, and with tapering roofs of straw. Some of these ancient Caledonian hearths have been discovered beneath an accumulation of 8 to 10 feet of moss, with a stratum below of a foot deep of vegetable mould, resting on an alluvial bed of gravel and sand; and Dr. Wilson conjectures from these accumulations that the dwellings point to an era more remote than that of the Romans. But I think there are reasons for concluding that geologists have been too hasty in assigning such very long periods of time for deposits of this kind, and the discoveries recently made in the neighbourhood of Glasgow of a pavement, apparently Roman, under deposits to which an equally long period might be assigned, and to which I shall afterwards have occasion to refer, confirm me in this opinion.
Other ancient Scottish dwellings have been found constructed of huge masses of granite frequently over 6 feet in length. Some of these have been found 30 feet long and from 8 to 9 feet wide. The walls are made to converge towards the top, and the whole is roofed in by means of the primitive substitute for the arch which characterizes the cyclopean structures of infant Greece, and the vast temples and palaces of Mexico and Yucatan.7
What are called the bee-hive houses were circular in form, with dome-shaped roofs, and walls of great thickness, which were built without mortar. They were called by the Irish clochans. When used for solitary retirement by hermits or anchorites they were called carcair or prison cells. Examples of these ancient houses are still frequently to be met with along the remote coasts, and on the islands, of the western and south-western parts of Ireland; and in Scotland the bothans or bee-hive houses of Lewis and Harris, which are occupied to the present day as the summer sheilings of the Hebrideans, are of the same description. The cut represents one of these interesting structures at Aird in Lewis. In form it is almost identical with one in Ireland described by Dr. Petrie, and of which he gives a drawing in his work on the Round Towers. It is – or was when Dr. Petrie sketched it – situated on the north side of the great island of Aran in the Bay of Galway, and was known by the peasantry as the Clochan-na-Carraige, or the stone house of the rock. Dr. Petrie ascribes it to a period before the introduction of Christianity, when the use of lime was unknown.8
There is every reason to believe that in the time of Kentigern, and even in times far more remote, the country around what is now Glasgow, and, indeed the whole face of Scotland, was covered with immense forests, chiefly of oak; and it is interesting to note that in the oldest of the canoes dug up from under the streets of Glasgow, we possess portions of the wood grown in these ancient forests, not later, and probably earlier, than the time of Abraham. By waste, and want of care in replanting. much of this wood disappeared, but many of the forests continued to exist long after the time of Kentigern; and when Edward I. overran the country, he was in the practice of repaying the services of those who submitted, or whom he desired to win his authority, by presents of so many oaks and stags from the forests which he found in possession of the crown. Thus, on the 18th of August, 1291, the king directed the keeper of the forest of Selkirk to deliver thirty stags to the Archbishop of St. Andrews; twenty stags and sixty oaks to the Bishop of Glasgow; and six oaks to Brother Bryan, Preceptor of the order of the Knights Templars in Scotland. Among these old forests was that of Glasgow, but, like all the others, it gradually disappeared, partly, no doubt, from waste, and partly that the ground might be brought under cultivation, but also as a measure of safety, for the wolf and other savage animals abounded in them to an extent which must have proved troublesome, and, indeed, dangerous. But while the forests existed the game was, as a rule, scrupulously preserved, and many of the old charters relate to these rights. There is preserved a composition or settlement, in the reign of Alexander II., between the Avenals, Lords of Eskdale, and the monks of Melrose, regarding disputed game rights in their forests. The Avenals were to have the great game, viz., “hart and hind, wild boar and sow, buck and doe; also eyrie of falcons and sparrowhawks.” The monks were to have the other game, but were forbidden to hunt with dogs and nets, or to set traps except for wolves.
Another striking peculiarity in the aspect of the country was the prevalence of those marches or fens which Herodianus describes as forming places of refuge for the early Britons when pressed by their enemies. They existed all over Scotland, occupying those now fertile and beautiful districts which, by clearing and drainage, have been brought under cultivation. Within these inaccessible morasses, which came to be intersected by paths known only to the inhabitants, Wallace and Bruce often defended themselves, and were able to defy the heavily-armed English soldiery. It is said that by lying out amid their damp and unhealthy exhalations Bruce caught the disease of which he died.9
In the midst of these morasses, in very old times, the natives were accustomed to construct fortified dwellings and strongholds. Cæsar describes the ancient Britons as living in palisaded strengths and marshes; and quite recently many fortified islands or “crannogs” have been discovered, in marshy grounds and in lakes, which are no doubt what Cæsar referred to, and which correspond with the pile buildings of the Swiss lakes. An interesting group of these was discovered in Dowalton Loch, in Galloway, in 1863. They were all constructed on the same principle. Masses of fern and heather were laid on the bottom of the loch, and above this layers of brushwood, consisting of hazel and birch, mixed with occasional large boulders. On this rested a flooring of sawed trees, and above all a surface of stones. The whole of the mass was penetrated by vertical piles formed of young oak trees, and the islands were surrounded by numerous rows of these piles. Strong beams of oak, with large morticed holes, seemed to have been part of a framework surrounding the edge of the islands for keeping them compact. Bones of the ox, deer, and other animals were found in them. In the same loch were found canoes of a size exceeding any of those discovered in the Clyde, to which I shall afterwards have occasion to refer, and several articles of bronze were found – one a beautiful specimen of Roman workmanship. Another of these crannogs, formed of masses of stones resting on the moss, was discovered in a marsh in the parish of Culter. It was penetrated by many oak piles, and connected with the firm ground by a causeway. The old name of the place is Cranney Moss, which may have been derived from the crannog erected in its centre. Similar constructions have been found in Loch Doon and other localities. Among others, an interesting example was found quite recently at the farm called Lochlea, of which the father of Robert Burns was tenant; but there is no loch there now. In some instances these crannogs were approached by a causeway, but more generally they must have been reached by the canoes which are almost invariably found in their neighbourhood.10
The period of the introduction of these lake dwellings in Scotland is uncertain, but in Switzerland the earliest of them may be assigned to a period 2000 years before Christ.
Of the people who, in the time of the Romans, inhabited these and the other primitive dwellings I have been describing, there have come down to us more than one interesting representation. In the museum of the College of Glasgow there is preserved a sculptured stone of the period of the Roman occupation, having on it a Latin inscription, and the figures of three natives seated on the ground as prisoners, with their hands tied behind their backs, and guarded by a cavalry soldier armed with shield and spear.* Behind him is a figure of Victory holding a wreath, and on another part of the stone is the Roman eagle. The prisoners are represented naked. The sculpture is considerably obliterated by the wearing of the stone, but the face of one of the figures is pretty well preserved. He wears a cap or bonnet, and has a beard and moustache. The head is massive, and the expression of the face is grave and shows determination. This interesting slab was discovered in the Roman fort at Castlehill, in the wall of Antoninus near Kilpatrick. It represents, no doubt, three of the captives taken by the Romans from the tribes outside the wall.11
Another example in better preservation was found in 1868, at another part of the same wall at Arniebog, a mile west from Castlecarry. The stone had been broken, but the two pieces fitted exactly, and they had evidently formed part of a larger slab which had probably been broken by the Romans themselves, and hid when they finally retreated from the district. On one of the portions was a representation of Neptune, and on the other that of a captive Briton. The latter is thus described by Dr. Buchanan, who visited the spot on hearing of the discovery:- “The figure of the captive is particularly interesting, for it affords a portrait by Roman hands of a native Briton. He is naked, on one knee, with his hands tied behind his back. The countenance is that of a young man of about twenty-two years of age; the features not at all savage; the nose good, slightly aquiline; no beard or moustache; the hair rather short and apparently plaited round the brow; the body plump and muscular, the whole figure exhibiting a strong, well-built man.”12
A third slab, also representing British captives, was discovered in the same year, 1868, at Bridgness, near Carriden, and it is particularly interesting from the fact that one of the captives is a woman – verifying and illustrating what we read in history, that in the battles with the Roman troops the British women fought side by side with the men. On this stone a mounted Roman soldier is represented galloping among and slaying the captives. The attitude of the woman is that of shrinking modesty. Her hair is arranged in two bands plaited round the forehead. It would have been interesting had there been also preserved a representation of the celebrated British Dogs – the ferocious mastiffs which, along with the women, took part in the battles against the invaders.
From historical accounts we know that the native Britons were exceptional in stature, and that the Romans greatly admired the beauty of the females – their commanding forms, their fine complexions, their small and delicate eye-brows, and their pearly teeth.13 Of the men, Herodianus, writing about the year 245, says: “They swim through the fens, or run through them up to the waist in mud. They wear iron about their loins and necks, esteeming this as fine and rich an ornament as others do gold. They make on their bodies the figures of divers animals, and use no clothing that these may be exposed to view. They are a very bloody and warlike people, using a little shield or target and a spear.” Another writer, Xiphiline, describes the inhabitants, both those near the great wall and those beyond it, as living “upon barren uncultivated mountains, or in desert marshy plains, where they have neither walls nor towns nor manured lands, but feed on the milk of their flocks and what they get by hunting, and some wild fruits. They never eat fish, though they have great plenty of them. They have no houses, but tents, where they live naked. They fight upon chariots; their horses are low but swift. they have great agility of body, and tread very surely. The arms they make use of are a buckler, a poniard, and a short lance, at the lower end of which is a piece of brass, in the form of an apple. They are accustomed to fatigue, to bear hunger and cold, and all manner of hardships. They run into the morasses up to the neck, and live there several days without eating. When they are in the woods they live upon roots and leaves.”
These descriptions must be taken with reserve, as the Romans perhaps never saw the inhabitants outside of the wall except during the summer season and when they met them in combat. The habits and mode of living of those within the great rampart would of course be greatly modified by their intercourse with the Romans, but the account is interesting as giving a description, no doubt correct in the main, of the inhabitants in the neighbourhood of Glasgow before Kentigern entered on his Christian mission in Strathclyde.
It is not difficult to conjecture on what food these early inhabitants of our district subsisted, but we possess some real evidence on the subject in the state of the teeth in various crania which have been from time to time discovered. Dr. Thurnham, after describing one of the earliest of these, says: “Altogether the condition is such as we must attribute to a rude people subsisting in great measure on the products of the chase and other animal food, ill provided with instruments for its division, and bestowing little care on its preparation, rather than to an agricultural tribe living chiefly on corn and fruits.”14 In the remains of the older settlements by far the larger number of the bones of animals found are those belonging to wild species, showing that the principal food of the people was obtained by hunting. After the introduction of bronze the reverse is the case, and in the later remains the bones of domestic animals become much more common, and those of wild animals is rare.
Dr. Wilson observes that a decided change took place in the common food of the country, from the era when the native of the primeval period pursued the chase with the flint lance and arrow, and the spear of deer’s horn, to that recent one when Saxon and Scandinavian marauders began to effect settlements and build houses on the scenes where they had ravaged the villages of the older British natives. “The first class, we may infer,” Dr. Wilson says, “attempted little cultivation of the soil, though within their narrow insular limits only a very thinly scattered population could long subsist on the spoils of the chase, and the combined labours of the megalithic builders were doubtless expended on other works besides their chambered barrows. Improving on the precarious chances of a mere nomadic or hunter life, we are led to suppose from other evidence that the ancient islander introduced the rudiments of a pastoral life while yet his dwelling was only the slight circular earth pit incovered with overhanging boughs and skins. To the spoils of the chase he would then add the milk of his flock of goats or sheep, probably with no other addition than such wild esculents, mast, or fruits, as might be gathered without labour in the glades of the neighbouring forest.”15 This is exactly the state in which Xiphiline, in the passage just quoted, says he found the natives in Scotland in the year 245.
But the habits of the people were to undergo a change, as the natives themselves were to be in a great measure dominated or displaced by a new people now rapidly and steadily spreading over the lowlands of Scotland. It has been commonly considered that the marriage of Malcolm Cean Moir [Malcolm III. (1031-1093)] with the Saxon princess Margaret gave a great impetus to this immigration of Southerns, and no doubt it did; but it had begun much earlier. The character of the movement, as described by a high authority, was peculiar. It was not the bursting forth of an overcrowded population seeking wider room. The new colonists were what we should call of the upper classes – of great Anglian families, and Normans of the highest blood and names. They were men of the sword, above all servile and mechanical employment. They were fit for the society of a court, and many became the chosen companions of our princes, and the old native people gave way before them. These new settlers were of the progressive party – friends to civilization and the church. In many cases they found churches on their manors – for the endowments made for the benefit of the people date from a very early period – or if not already there they erected them.16 As a rule they respected the existing endowments, and they themselves made liberal grants from their private estates, and the districts so endowed became parishes.
When we come to mediæval times we find what remained of the native population in a state of serfdom under the dominion of these Saxon invaders, and it is not easy for us who live in the light and liberty of the nineteenth century to form an adequate idea of the degraded state of the great bulk of the population at that time. Professor Innes, writing of the district around Melrose – and that district was not by any means exceptional – says: “The original inhabitants had either removed to districts not yet coveted by the southern colonists, or were reduced to the condition of serfs, then appropriately termed nativi, who were transferred by sale or gift along with the soil which they cultivated.” In the reign of Alexander II. there is a charter by which Osulf the Red, with his son Walter, are sold for ten merks (£6, 13s. 4d.). By another charter of the same period one Patrick de Prendergast,, burgess of Berwick, purchases the freedom of Renaldus, a Neyf or slave, with all his followers, “so that his wife and children and all descendants from him may go and return and stay wherever they please like other freemen.”17 What is curious in this case is that the Neyf or native whose freedom is purchased is styled in the deed præpositus, or bailie, of the town of Berwick. the price paid is twenty merks (£13, 6s. 8d.), a high sum compared with the usual price of serfs at that time, but this may be accounted for by the higher position held by the subject of the transaction. At Brackley, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, a serf was sold for three merks, and in the end of the same century another, with all his family and chattels, was sold for twenty shillings.18
In the old chartularies there are many other interesting notices of this state of serfdom. In the LIBER DE MELROS is a charter dated towards the end of the thirteenth century, in which John de Vesey conveys and confirms to the abbey certain lands, and along with them assigns the “bondos cum nativis, sequeles, et catalles eorundum.” Sequeles means the followers, the children of the native, just as a horse-dealer sells a mare with her followers.19 There is another charter granted in the year 1280 by one Andrew Fraser, by which he conveys to the abbey of Kelso two crofts occupied by Adam of the Hog and John the son of Lethe, together with “Adam of the Hog himself my native with all his following;” and the charter contains a clause of warrandice of the subjects conveyed, which are enumerated as “the said lands, meadows, men, and pastures.” And to come nearer home we find a charter of King William (circa 1180), by which he conveys to Jocelin, bishop of Glasgow one Gilmachoi de Conglud, “with his children and all his descendants.” This was an exceptional case, for as a rule the Neyf or serf was conveyed or sold only along with the land on which he resided. there appears, however, to have been an exception to this rule when the sale was made to provide for the necessities of the granter. Among the national manuscripts of the twelfth century is a deed by which Bertram, son of Adam of Lesser Reston, sells to the prior and convent of Coldingham “Turkil Hog and his sons and his daughters for three merks of silver which in my great want they gave me of the house of Coldingham.”20 Other charters occur about the same time of serfs sold apart from the land, but in each case it is for sums paid to the granters “in their great necessity;” and Professor Innes conjectures, I have no doubt correctly, that the villains of an estate might not be sold off the lands except in such circumstances.21
In England also there are many other examples of the sale of serfs. By a deed in the beginning of the thirteenth century John de Parles grants to the monks of St. Mary of Lancaster his naif John son of John son of Hamo, with his issue and chattels, for the yearly payment of one pound of cummin – no land being conveyed. In some cases the bondman purchased his freedom, the price being commuted into a yearly payment, By a charter granted by the John de Parles just mentioned he enfranchises his naif William – the newly made freeman undertaking to pay yearly to the prior and monks of Lancaster the sum of two pence.22
Even where the native continued in a state of serfdom his labour was occasionally commuted into a stated tax in money. In the earliest times it was the custom to extort from the serfs the largest possible amount of manual labour, and their condition must have been miserable in the extreme; but this became gradually relaxed, and they acquired some few privileges, one of these being that the lord accepted an annual money payment instead of labour, and the serf, if he was industrious, was enabled in this way to earn something for himself, and even to acquire cattle and to rent a piece of land from his master. An example of this, by which certain land held by a serf was sold along with the serf himself, occurs among the papers of Queen’s College, Oxford. It is a charter granted in the reign of Richard I. by Nicholas de Pentiz, by which he conveys to the Hospital of Hamtone “illiam virgatam terræ in Gersiz quam Turstinus tennuit cum ipso Turstino et tota sequela sua.”23
Sometimes the son of a bondman might, without the knowledge of his overlord, leave the land and rise to a better position, but if his birth could be traced he could at any time be reclaimed. An example of such reclamation occurs in one of the old deeds belonging to the corporation of Axbridge, in the county of Somerset, granted in the thirty-fourth year of Edward III. (1361), but in this case the owner of the serf, after asserting his right, had the generosity to give him his freedom. The deed (in Latin) by which he did so is worth quoting as an example of these curious old writs. It is as follows:- “To all the faithful in Christ to whom this present writing shall come, John de Cleveden, knight, Lord of Alre, greeting in the Lord: Whereas Thomas Salamon was lately claimed in my court as being a bondman born by blood, yet do I, the said John, will and grant for myself and my heirs that the said Thomas shall be quit in future of all servitude and neifty, together with all his following and his issue: granting that he shall be free, and of free condition, without any claim by me or my heirs for ever.”24 In England we find frequent examples of natives or bondmen so improving their condition as to become burgesses; and in the city of York, in the fourteenth century, this appears to have prevailed to such an extent that the corporation had their attention called to it, and the practice was prohibited. In an old MS. book of “Memoranda touching the City of York,” there occurs, in the year 1394, an ordinance that no nativus or born bondman shall be admitted to the freedom of the city.25 Probably in consequence of this resolution the archbishop – Scrope – was encouraged to insist on a claim “to the person of William de Wystowe, as being his nativus or bondman;” but either his claim was unfounded, or for some reason the corporation saw fit to resist it, for it is recorded that the mayor and others “protested personally and openly in the chamber of the archbishop, within his palace at York, that he is not such bondman, but a free man born.”26 The result is not stated.
The great proprietors kept genealogies, or stud books, as we might call them, of their serfs, to enable them to trace and reclaim them, and numerous examples of these are to be found in the Dunfermline Chartulary.
Among the mass of the common people, indeed, there was at that time no real personal liberty. With the exception of the “king’s burgesses,” every man was under one lord or another, to whom he owed allegiance and personal service. There is a law of King David which provides that “gif any man,” other than a freeman of course, “be funden in the kyngis land that had na propir lord he sal haf the space of xv dayes to get him a lord; and gif that he wythin the saed term fyndes na lord, the kyngis justice sal tak of hym to the kyngis oise viii ky and kepe his body to the kyngis behuffe quhill he get him a lord.”
There was, however, another kind of serfdom, that of a freeman finding it necessary to seek the protection afforded by that condition, and for that purpose voluntarily rendering himself a bondman to a feudal lord.27
Of course those who entered the church became free from the conditions of compulsory servitude, but this applied only to those in orders, and it was so from the earliest times. The familia of a monastery included every one attached to it, and every individual down to the lowest grade of those who occupied the church lands was a monk, but it was only those on whom church orders were conferred who acquired the valued privilege of freedom from slavery.28
The practice of selling serfs along with the land continued in England till the end of the sixteenth century. Among the Oxford manuscripts is a deed recording the manumission of a serf in Lincolnshire so late as 1562.29 Professor Innes says that the last claim of neyfship or serfdom proved in a Scotch court was in 1364, and he adds that in that or the following century the institution must have died out.30 I doubt this. The probability is that it continued as long in Scotland as in England. There is a charter by James VI. (1584) granting the lands of Bandeith, in Stirlingshire, to Alexander Rannald, son of John Rannald and Elizabeth Alschinder, veteri nativo et tenenti nostro.31
Certain it is, incredible as it may appear, that the institution of slavery continued to exist in Scotland among certain classes down almost to our own day. Such was the condition of every person employed in a colliery or salt work, including women as well as men.** These, by the mere operation of law, and without any paction, by entering the employment became became the property of the owner, and bound to perpetual servitude in that particular work. The master could not sell him off the land to another, but if the owner sold or alienated the ground on which the works were, the collier or salter passed over to the new owner as fundo annexum, and if he made his escape the master could follow him and bring him back – exercising this power, to use the words of our great institutional writer Erskine, in virtue of “his right of property in the deserter.” This state of matters continued to a period within the memory of some still living. It was not till the year 1799 that it was put an end to by the act 39 Geo. III., which declared colliers to be “free from their servitude.” One of these slaves, an old man called Moss Nook, was living in 1820. He had been originally on the estate of Mr. McNair of Greenfield, near Glasgow, but in the year mentioned he was in the service of Mr. Dunlop, of Clyde Iron Works, to whom, as he himself told the gentleman who relates the story, he had been many years before transferred by Mr. McNair in exchange for a pony.32 But this wan an illegal transaction, as colliers, although they could not leave the land and were sold with it, could not, as the law then stood, be transferred to another estate. I may add that so late as 1843 the late Dr. Norman Macleod had among his parishioners at Dalkeith a woman who had been in this state of slavery.33
The records of the ancient “lawting” courts of Orkney and Shetland contain decrees which, in a somewhat similar way, controlled the personal liberty of the cultivators of the soil. One of these, dated in 1602, proceeds on a complaint made by “ane greit number of the gentilmen and utheris the commonis of the contrie,” that permission had been given to “a great number of servandis and wtheris indwellars within the land to pas afe the contrie to wther partis quharbe a great part of the landis of the contrie are likelie to ly ley.” It is therefore ordained that “na skippair, merchand, or awner carie away or transport afe the contrie ony persoun or personis in ther schipis bottis, great or small, without my lordis licence or his deputis,” under penalties. “My lord” here referred to is “Patrik, Earl of Orkney, Lord Zetland.”34
In Scotland, for a long time, a very different class of the community were made the subjects of sale, namely, thieves and other malefactors. Among the Argyll papers is a charter, granted (circa 1350) by John of Menteith, lord of Knapdale and Arran, in favour of Archibald and his heirs the power “of selling and dismissing of thieves as they please; and if they be condemned to death with power to hang them on the gallows.”35 By an act of the Scottish Parliament in 1606 power is given to the owners of Coalheughs and Saltpans to apprehend and put to labour in their works all vagabonds and sturdy beggars.36
I do not know what exact amount of liberty the inhabitants of Glasgow enjoyed in the old times of which I have been speaking, for the subject is involved in considerable obscurity. In the earlier part of their history they were most of them, no doubt, the native bondmen of the bishop; and I find no reason for supposing that they were exempt from the law to which I have referred, which entitled the bishop, as their feudal lord, to prevent them from leaving his jurisdiction. The homines episcopi were, howerver, of a higher grade than the natives or serfs, and they might, by acquiring a “toft,” become burgesses. In 1242 we find a grant by King Alexander to the Bishop of Glasgow, “ut burgenses et homines sui,” should be free to buy and sell in Argyll and Lennox “without disturbance from our bailies of Dumbarton.” But whatever was their status, it was higher than that of the neyfs. The latter, there is every reason to believe, were, as their name, nativi, indicates, the original native population who had been brought under subjection by the invaders. They were mere chattels, over whose persons the bishop had a power, or rather a right of property, which entitled him, if the bondsman escaped, to pursue him and bring him back. And the greater part of the rural population – called churles, thrylls, and upland men, and also natives and serfs – were in the same condition.
But the ancient burgh laws provided certain limitations to the power of the bishop. If one of his native bondsmen could escape to a royal burgh – to Rutherglen or Dunbarton, for example – and there “remain quietlie the space of ane yeir and ane day” without being challenged and reclaimed by his lord, “in that case he shall be free and delyvered fra bondage.” Such was the law when the bishops got the grant of a burgh at Glasgow, and it applied to every native bondsman in the kingdom “whais bond that ever he be.”37
Another limitation of the power of the bishops and other feudal lords over the persons of their bondmen was, that at all fairs the liberty of the bondman was assured during his presence there. By one of the old burgh laws it was provided that is a serf (nativus) had fled from his master, and the latter found him at a fair, he could not take or attach him while the fair lasted.38 Neither could any one, serf or freeman, be taken at a fair for debt.
In Glasgow, perhaps, as was the case at one time in the English burghs, the “masters” of certain crafts enjoyed greater privileges than others, and those who were able to buy a “toft” in the burgh, and who thereby became burgesses, would acquire a higher status; but it is certain that none of the inhabitants enjoyed the rights and immunities peculiar to royal burghs, and out of the royal burghs, and out of the royal burghs there was at that time no real liberty. In the case of all mere burghs of barony the property of the community continued as truly a part and parcel of the barony as if it were the property of a single vassal. The bishop was accordingly the feudal as well as the spiritual lord of the community, and of every individual composing it. For his own interest, and in order to promote the prosperity of his diocese, he permitted them to go and come in trading; but, without his permission, they could not permanently leave the district. One of the Leges Quatuor Burgorum provides that it shall be “lachful and lefull till ilk burges to geyff or sell his lands the quhilk he has gotten of purchas or of conquest in the kyngis burgh to quham sa evyr hym likes, and may frelie pass and gang quhar he wyl” – a privilege which, limited as it is to the royal burghs, would seem to imply that at that early time no other, neither the “homo episcopi” nor any one else, could leave the territory where he was setytled and “gang quhar he wyl” without his lord’s permission. Even in the royal burghs personal was not enjoyed by every class of the traders and burgesses. We find an example of this in the case of the wool-combers, in regard to whom it is provided that “gif ony kemistaris levis the burgh to dwell with uplandys men, having sufficient work to occupie thaim within burgh, thai aw to be takyn and prisonyt.” And so late as the year 1369 it was enacted by the parliament of David II., held in Perth in February of that year, “that na burgisis nor marchands transport thaim out of the realme withoutyne leave of our lord the king or his chalmerlan soucht and obtenit.” If such was the case with the king’s freemen we may conceive what must have been the powers of the bishop over those homines ejus, as well as over the nativi et servi, of whom he was the feudal lord.
The king’s burgess, again, had the right of battle, potest habere duellum, with the burgess of an earl, baron, or churchman, but the latter was denied that privilege against the king’s burgess. The royal burghs, from the outset, enjoyed complete self-government. The magistrates were appointed “thruch the counsals of the guid men of the toun,” but in Glasgow they were named by the bishop, and could be removed by him at his pleasure. In Glasgow there were no “freemen burgesses” and no guildry or convenery – these being the two incorporated classes into which burgesses of royal burghs alone were divided. Again, no citizen of Glasgow could, in the time of these laws, have an oven, that being a privilege confined, by stringent enactment, to the king’s burgess. Such were some of the ancient burgh laws of Scotland, and there were many others in which the freedom which the “burgenses domini regis” enjoyed stands out in striking contrast with the state of dependence and vassalage of the “burgenses abbatis prioris comitis et baronis.” In process of time, no doubt, many of the privileges and immunities of the royal burghs came in practice to be conceded to the burghs of barony and regality; but the change must have been very gradual, and it is probable that for a long time none but the royal burghs enjoyed the benefit of those leges burgorum which placed them so high above the burghs which held only of subject superiors.
But on the whole the people of Glasgow appear to have been fortunate in their ecclesiastical rulers, and their condition was greatly superior to that of the communities who were under the sway of lay barons. From the time of David the city was ruled by bishops till 1491, when Robert Blackader, who then filled the see, was at the instance of James IV. (who, like James II., was a canon of the Cathedral) promoted by the pope to the dignity of archbishop, with metropolitan, primatical, and legislative dignity, and until the Reformation the archbishops were the lords temporal as well as spiritual of the community. But farther on I shall have occasion to refer again to the condition of the citizens, and their municipal rights under the rule of the bishops.
2 thoughts on “The Early Inhabitants, pp.37-55.”